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  • Writer's pictureEric Johnson

The Curse (Short Story)

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

I wrote "The Curse" several years ago, based off a fear that I would never have children. This was before I met my wife and before my family, but the fear was still there. I imagined what lengths people would be willing to go to in order to be able to have a child. Should the narrator have done what he did? Is he a victim? I'll leave the judgement to you. Let me know what you think in the comments section at the end of the story. (10 minute read)

My grandmother always said that whenever a life is taken, another comes to fill it’s place; I’ve never believed it worked like that, I couldn’t see it being a life for a life. If a person is to be born then someone must die. She said that it was a necessity of life, but I was young and my grandfather had just died. People say anything to calm a child down.

Weather it was because of my pain of something in her own soul I didn’t know at the time.

Like I said, I never believed her; not even for the first year of my marriage when my wife had a stillbirth. I was upset, and rightly so, but my grandmother said to me, “Boy, it’s a good thing, means no one has died.” I looked her in the eyes and told her straight out, my son did. She shook her head and gave me a hug. I could feel her wet cheek on mine, and I knew that she hurt too, weather it was because of my pain of something in her own soul I didn’t know at the time. So as a comfort to myself, I pretended that it was for my own pain that she was crying.

That was two summer ago, now it’s Christmas, and my wife is again pregnant. We are doing everything we can to prevent a stillbirth this time. She goes to the doctors twice a week now since the baby is due soon. We make sure to follow the doctors diet instructions, and I have been doing everything that she wants me to so I don’t cause undue stress. That’s how badly we want this child; after all we’ve been trying for the passed two years with nothing to show for it. We’re starting to blame ourselves, my wife and I, she told me the other day that it was all her fault, she said that it ran in her family, infertility. I told her that was nonsense, there was nothing wrong with her. We even went so far as to get checked out last year, both of us. We were as fertile as newly seeded fields.

There has been no reason for our trouble in having a child, and as the weeks passed into days and the time nears when my child is to be born my grandmother’s words come to me more and more. Now she is eighty-four, a rather fragile figure but her voice still resonates in my ears, whispering softly to a crying child that his grandfather lives on in someone else, with each passing there is new life. I remember the hot tears in her eyes, tears that I never saw at the passing of her husband. What were those tears for, I needed to know. Lately, the way she has been looking at me gives me some doubt as to why she cried like that last year. Granted she’s old and probably a little upset herself that she doesn’t have a great-grandchild to spoil, but to cry over a stillbirth and not over the death of her husband of fifty three years.

I made up my mind to go see her. When I arrived at her apartment she welcomed me as always, then seemed surprised that I was alone she asked if there were any marital problems. I told her no, but there was something that I had to ask her. On her bidding I continued, explaining to her my doubts about her tears and how I’ve been thinking about what she said all those years ago when my grandfather had died. How a life must be forfeited for another to begin. How much truth there might be in that, or so I have begun to believe. She looked at me sadly and told me to sit and she would explain; I sat, a good thing I did too because she told me a story that would both repulse me and draw me in.

I was told of my mother’s birth, some forty nine years ago. The story started familiar enough, for me at least. It seems that my grandmother had a stillbirth before my mother. Then the story got strange. It was like something out of the twilight zone, some tale of twisted horrible consequences that goes to the past before it moves ahead. She told it despite herself, grimacing at the bad parts as if they stirred up fresh wounds in her. Her story went on, and I sat quiet, motionless, fearing the least movement would take the story and bring it into reality.

A curse, the boy said, a curse on your children, may all who are born take the life of another until the time comes when your line will no longer kill.

After she told me of the stillbirth, she mentioned something about a curse put on her family something her grandmother had told her. The story started sometime in Elizabethan England, there was a roving band of gypsies that were passing through the countryside where one of my relatives lived. There was a young boy with them, he was kind and fair to look on. His golden blond hair would often be a little too long and hang into his eyes in front, but he never seemed to mind, and that bright smile was never lost from his face. He was the glory of the gypsies everyone of them were so proud of him, all considered him their child because all took care of him. One day while my relative was hunting he came across the lad, calling to him, the lad turned around and the sun glinted on something shiny in his hand. Being one of the Queen’s archers, my relative’s first reaction was to shoot, and so he did.

The boy fled, however he never did return to the Gypsy camp. Instead he fell seven yards from where he was first hit. When my relative reaches the boy he was still alive. The boy’s blue eyes were beginning to cloud over but they had turned from a cheery sky blue as they normally were, to an icy blue. The archer froze at the sight of them, held tight by a single look from a boy of no more than twelve. A curse, the boy said, a curse on your children, may all who are born take the life of another until the time comes when your line will no longer kill. That is the way it will be. He said as he sealed the curse with his own death.

I wanted to laugh at this preposterous story, how could she expect me, a twenty-first century man to believe in a Elizabethan Gypsies curse. It was a look in her eyes that kept me from laughing. There was something inside this frail eighty-four year old woman that I had never seen, something to pity and something to fear. For the first time in my life I realized that I was looking into the eyes of a killer. She had killed someone in order to have my mother. No wonder I was an only child. Wait, I looked into my grandmother’s eyes and asked if that meant that my mother was a killer. Was I only born because someone else was murdered?

She turned away, I could tell she was crying. I wanted to go to her and give her a hug, comfort her, but I couldn’t get myself to do it. She was a murderer! This woman who changed my diapers, this woman who would give me candy. Then the thought hit me, my mother’s not an only child. Although all of her other children are childless. Could this be true, is there such thing as a curse? I still couldn’t believe it, or at least wouldn’t believe it. It’s so easy to sit in a chair and listen to such talk when you suddenly become afraid of the person you are talking to.

She was only playing the hand that she was dealt.

What bothered me more than my grandmother being a murderer, this meant that my mother was too. She must have guessed what I was thinking, because my grandmother shook her head and pleaded with me not to blame her. She was only playing the hand that she was dealt. I was speechless, and what’s more, she went on talking. Don’t blame your mother, she told me, she never hurt anyone. She never even knew about the curse.

Now I was confused, if she didn’t know about the curse, how could I be around. If she didn’t kill then the curse is over, a generation refused to kill. My grandmother explained it didn’t work that way. The only way to end the curse is to eliminate the line, so long as there is someone descended from the archer the curse lives in them. Still she explained that my mother never killed anyone, it was her, my grandmother, who killed again to allow me to be born. I didn’t know how to respond, to be told that you’re family is filled with murderers and that before I left my mother’s womb I was responsible for the death of another human being. I sat speechless and didn’t move for ten minutes, I only know because to avoid eye contact I was staring at the clock.

I had to know what to do, I couldn’t kill anyone. I had never held a knife on anything except steak before, never once fired a gun, and I can’t bear the thought of killing. I couldn’t hear any more. I stood up and moved to leave but she grasped my arm. Her surprisingly strong, bony fingers dug deep into the skin pinning muscle to bone. She told me that I had to end it, I had to stop the killing. It would have stopped with my mother, she said, but she had so badly wanted a grandchild, besides she couldn’t stand the idea of seeing the end to her family. It was up to me, she whispered, I had to be strong and put an end to the curse. I walked out the door, behind me I heard her yelling to me that it ended with me.

Talk about pressure. I took a walk around her neighborhood to ease my mind, she’d lost it. That was the only explanation for what just happened, she must be losing it, either that or I am. I looked around me, everything looked so dirty. There was a bum stumbling drunk up an alley-way, a few kids were playing stickball in the street, one of them kept scratching at his head, head lice probably. I watched them play for a little while and moved on. All the shops had either boards on broken windows or bars to keep people from getting in through the windows. The trash barrels, the ones that were still standing at any rate, were overflowing with rotting fruit and half eaten food; messy wrappers from melted ice cream were blowing from their tops onto the cars with no wheels and broken windows. Even now there was the random fly that buzzed above the barrel. Lining each building was a line of trash, like sandbags put up against the sea of pollution that surrounded the buildings so nothing would seep in through their cracked foundations.

It was among one of these piles where I found my salvation. A large knife, the broken wooden handle peered at me like a savage claw reaching out of the junk toward freedom. I moved toward it, and as I did I tripped over another bum who had fallen asleep along the curb. He looked at me as if I had just invaded his living room and then moved on. He moved like a man with dignity. Think of that, a bum with dignity. His head was held high and he walked well. He was not hungover or drunk, at least not that I could tell. The way he looked at me was what had first shocked me, his bright blue eyes so full of pain, and humility. They seemed so out of place in his dirty, careworn face. He should have been something more than he is, he was too much a man to be a bum. Again I turned my attention to the knife, forgetting the man, it was this that held my future.

I put the knife in my jacket carefully so that the rusted blade wouldn’t cut me. The last thing I need now is to get tetanus from it, maybe I should clean it. What am I saying? I don’t need to clean it, I need to get rid of it. Unless I am going to use it on myself to end this bloody curse, but that would be foolish. I don’t even know if this curse exists yet I am willing to throw my own life away to end it. Why? What’s stopping me from doing what everyone else has done, why shouldn’t I kill to have my child. With that thought my feet stopped moving, and like waking from a dream to find that you are not where you fell asleep, I found myself in an alley.

It was very dark, probably getting close to supper time, she’s going to worry if I’m not back soon. On either side of this alley there was nothing but a brick wall blocked by junk. I couldn’t see to the end, but I’m assuming that it dead ends into a building. I can’t make out much, but there is a trash barrel a little in front of me. I moved to it and look further into the alley overcome by my curiosity I forget about the knife in my jacket pocket and about any curse. As I look deeper into the alley I get pushed from behind. Tumbling over the trash barrel I instinctively reach for the knife in my pocket. I get it out in time to land on my face; laying quietly and can feel someone going through my back pockets. My wallet, I think to myself, I’m getting robbed. Just then I feel a hand on my shoulder, trying to turn me over.

I lash out with the knife, and I can feel it sink into something very easily. I can feel something trickling down my arm, I open my eyes which are beginning to swell from the fall and look at my attacker.

Before me, in a pool of his own blood, lays a child. He couldn’t be more than ten, twelve at the most. His golden blond hair now all matted and dripping red, his blue eyes once filled with childish joy now cold and dead as ice. I shiver as I look at him, I can’t draw myself away from his dead eyes, looking coldly at me as if saying all I wanted was a loaf of bread mister, now look at me. I fell to my knees and drawing my eyes from the boy I beheld a man, standing tall and proud. His bright blue eyes standing out against his dirt face, his eyes, once filled with pain and humility, now look at me with disgust and anger.

I look away from him and begin to cry. My hands drenched in the blood of the child, the knife falls onto the pavement and across the city a baby gasps its first breath and cries out as if in pain as its blue eyes look upon the world for the first time.

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